A European "Maybe" for Palestine

By Ana Palacio

MADRID - On Monday night, the Palestinian Authority submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations General Assembly that, if approved, will upgrade Palestine's status from "observer entity" to "non-member observer state." A positive vote could change the outlook for bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The vote comes after recent violence in the Gaza Strip has ostensibly delivered the coup de grâce to any realistic chance for meaningful negotiations to resolve a conflict that remains key to the wider region's future. In this context, many factors will influence the General Assembly's decision, one of the most significant of which will be the European Union's position.

While EU countries have failed to reach a consensus, the European vote most likely will not hinder the resolution's adoption, which would make Palestine the second state to gain non-member observer-state status, along with the Holy See.

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Unlike the process for determining full UN membership, a simple majority in the General Assembly is sufficient to grant observer-state status, with no recourse to the UN Security Council. Given that 132 UN members already recognize Palestine, the vote is likely to be positive.

The draft resolution has evoked U.S. President Barack Obama's speech last year at the General Assembly, in which he expressed the hope to "come back next year ... [and] have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations -- an independent, sovereign state of Palestine." But, despite Obama's supportive words, the U.S. has expressed opposition to the Palestinian bid because it would disrupt the status quo -- which is already being threatened by escalating tensions between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how to address Iran's nuclear program.

In fact, the certainty of a U.S. veto prevented Palestine's bid for full UN membership from reaching the Security Council last year. Now, with Hamas emboldened by the recent cessation of hostilities with Israel, its beleaguered rival for Palestinians' support, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is proceeding with the less ambitious observer-state approach in the General Assembly.

As a result, the draft resolution asserts that all of the key issues -- borders, the status of refugees, control of Jerusalem, security, water rights and the release of Palestinian political prisoners -- would be negotiated at a later stage. But the fact that non-member observer-state status would give the Palestinians recourse to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is eliciting concern among European leaders.

With the vote set to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the 1947 UN decision to partition Palestine, this sensitive issue has rattled many, including the European Commission -- although it has once again been drowned out by its member states' cacophony. France, Portugal and Spain have firmly declared that they will vote in favor of Palestine's status upgrade, while Germany and the Czech Republic oppose it. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom may abstain from the vote, and is calling upon the U.S. to take a "decisive lead" in seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


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Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and former Senior Vice President of the World Bank, is a member of the Spanish Council of State.

(AP Photo)


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